Monday, April 11, 2011

Now, Nobody Loves MOX


Plutonium is easy to handle because the radiation it gives off is persistent but relatively weak. The type used in weapons, plutonium 239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and emits alpha rays. They make the plutonium feel warm to the touch but are so feeble that skin easily stops the radiation. If trapped inside the body, though, alpha rays can cause cancer.

Plutonium is the 'puppy dog' of radioactive materials.  As with all alpha-emitters, just don't grind it up and have it as a smoothy!  You would need to ingest a lot of it to really get up to the horror stories of the greenies.  We old people could eat it for breakfast, and I don't know how long it would stay in the body if you were determined to get rid of it.  I think the horror stories were derived from the urban myth that John Wayne inhaled a persistent speck of P. into his lungs, and this had an effect over that of chain smoking.  Ha!  Thus, P. went into the common vernacular as the most deadly substance in the world.  Making a Plutonium bomb isn't that easy since you have to deal with the pure metal.

Although you should laugh at P. horror stories, it turns out that the world is awash in it (in the oxide form).  Britain and France have been extracting P. for years from commercial used fuel.  Their only hope was to fob it off to the Japanese in a form suitable for reactors.  That story may have come to an end.  Although the MOX reactor didn't do any worse than the others, the panic was much greater.  Japan was drenched in P. when the North Koreans ignited their feeble atomic bomb, so all those stories of P. escaping were confused.

So, everybody thinks that Lead and Uranium are much safer than Plutonium, and I think that MOX is dead for now.  Nothing like those Urban Myths!  

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